So much for the terrible twos. A couple of two-year-old shops walked away with the top awards at Advertising Age's 2015 Small Agency Awards held in Boston.
Chicago-based O'Keefe Reinhard & Paul was named 2015 Agency of the Year. Nómades, a shop based in Mexico City and Buenos Aires, took home the gold for Integrated Campaign of the Year for its "Soccer Gentlemen" campaign for Tecate.
During its short existence, OKRP has brought in big-name clients like Yum Brands, for which the shop has worked on some of its emerging concepts like Chick-fil-A competitor Super Chix and Vietnamese-sandwich concept Bánh Shop.
But it's probably best known for last year's holiday campaign for Big Lots. The campaign featured a '60s-style- girl-group singing songs including "Nailing This" and "Black Fridayest Black Friday of All" and was meant to bring some feistiness to the brand that consumers would remember, particularly because the retail chain does not have a big budget.
"For a company like Big Lots, given our budget, we would be a small fish at a big agency, which would also mean we'd probably get the small-fish talent and attention," said Andrew Stein, chief marketing officer at Big Lots. "But with OKRP, we get the big-fish talent and the big-fish attention." Big Lots, in part because of OKRP, has posted five consecutive quarters of positive comparable sales. Net sales for Big Lots during the 2014 holiday season were up 1.4% from 2013.
Prior to founding OKRP, Tom O'Keefe and Nick Paul were senior executives at Interpublic's FCB, and Matt Reinhard, who was an executive creative director at FCB and DDB, also was creative director at design agency Eyeball.
Nómades' work for Tecate came about because the agency and brand were faced with the challenge of tapping into World Cup fever without mentioning the tournament or the Mexican national team, both of which were sponsored by rival Corona. So the campaign thought of a way to teach men how to juggle their love lives and watching soccer nonstop by being perfect gentlemen.
Agency founder Pablo Batlle used his copywriter skills to pen a 185-page love letter that takes 90 minutes to read. That happens to be the length of a soccer match. In TV spots, a microsite and 47 Facebook posts that follow the reading of the letter in real time, a man presents his beloved with a huge stack of pages and implores her to read right away the love letter he has just written for her. She is charmed by his romantic gesture, and he slips off to watch a soccer game with his friends.
"Pablo is a poet," said Raul Edmundo Gonzalez, Tecate brand director at Cuauhtemoc Moctezuma Heineken Mexico. "You read [the letter] and it's spectacular. There's constant communication between Pablo and me, and he's involved in everything, and passionate about it. He never sleeps. He's always thinking about Tecate. In my experience, I've never had that kind of contact with a creative director before, and it's reflected in the work."
Another part of the campaign covers courtship, and a man who gently turns down a new girlfriend's invitation to come in after a date. On the doorstep, he explains that he is defying macho culture and the temptation of one-night stands to be a perfect gentleman. She swoons, and he tears down the street to watch the next game.
Sales grew 11% by volume during the four-month campaign last year; its ads garnered 17 million YouTube views and accounted for two of YouTube's 10 most-watched ads during the World Cup.
"Soccer Gentlemen" just edged out "Madden NFL 15" for EA Sports from San Francisco-based Heat. Heat took the gold last year for the same client. And this year's Madden work actually snagged eight Lions at Cannes.
"This year was the toughest year we've had in terms of judging," said Ad Age Editor Ken Wheaton. "We seem to get more entries and stiffer competition each year. This year we saw a noted uptick in international shops, particularly from Latin America. But wherever they're located, small and independent shops are obviously capturing the eyes of major marketers -- while continuing to do work for smaller businesses as well."
Now in its seventh year, the Small Agency Awards -- and the Small Agency Conference that preceded the celebration -- have become a staple for the agency community. It's the only event that is tailored especially to shops that are independent and have less than 150 employees. The event is held every July, after the glitz and glamour of the Cannes ad fest dies down. It travels to a different ad community each time; in the past that has included Austin, Texas; Portland, Ore.; Minneapolis; Denver; and New Orleans.
The complete list of winners is detailed below. For more information about these agencies, be sure to look out for the Aug. 3 issue of Ad Age, which will feature profiles on each of these talented shops.
SMALL AGENCY OF THE YEAR
CAMPAIGN OF THE YEAR -- INTEGRATED
GOLD: "Soccer Gentlemen" for Tecate, Nómades, Mexico City and Buenos Aires
Tie for Silver
SILVER: "Madden NFL 15" for EA Sports, Heat, San Francisco
SILVER: "The Volkswagen of Your Life" for Volkswagen, Arrechedera Claverol, Mexico City